The scene: Alternative Software. Enter an excited minion. 'Hey! I've just bought the licence to that top TV prog and-longest-running-SF-programme-of-all-time Doctor Who!' 'Wow! Great!' (A pause.) 'So what's it about, then?' 'Erm...' 'Weren't there Daleks in it?' 'Oh yes. Daleks. And, er...' 'Well, just get someone to write a game where the Doctor runs around a lot and shoots things. Oh, and put in lots of Daleks.'
It's all rather depressing, really. The one thing Dalek Attack has is no relation at all to the TV prog. The Doc tears around the place armed with a machine gun trying to pass itself off as the sonic screwdriver, chucking grenades and generally behaving like The Doctor They Pushed Too Far. You get the choice of playing Ace (who's well known for shooting things and blowing them up) so turning the Doctor into Rambo Who is a bit pointless. But, hey, enough tedious trainspotting. You're probably wondering how the game plays - except for Fiona of Stratford, who's trying to remember if her library books are overdue. Fiona, they would have been, but I've renewed them over the phone. And do stop bending down the corners of the pages - use a bookmark.
The designers of the game have cleverly played up the hitherto underdeveloped Hollywood action film aspects of the TV programme. A spearhead Dalek invasion has taken over four cities, London, Paris, Tokyo and New York, protecting them with force domes. Pods of devious design are dissipating the ozone layer in preparation for the main force to land, so the Doctor infiltrates the domes by (dashed cunning, this bit) going through sewers and underground railway stations to get under them. A bit of gratis violins, a barney with an end-of-level guardian and it's off to the next bit. Ultimately you nip off to Skaro to capture Davros, the Daleks' creator, so there you go.
Technically, Dalek Attack can't be faulted. It plays at a cracking pace, scrolling two-thirds of the Speccy screen smoothly and at a knockout speed. Incredible. The Doctor and Ace leap about like someone's forgotten to switch on the gravity, and there's some lovely interaction with the backgrounds, with the Doc hanging from ledges and signs and sort of moving along hand-over-hand. Fab. There's even a Whovian touch to remind you you're playing a game about Doctor Who - the Doc holds onto his hat when he jumps. All in all, and ignoring the embarrassingly crap intro sequence, a really impressive start. (Better play the game properly then.)
Seek, locate, spiflicate
The Daleks haven't come to Earth alone, oh no. They've got a few minor baddies from the programme along with them - Ogrons, Robomen, er, roboty sphere-ish sort of things and (oh blimey) some sort of big flappy-trousered boss type. To give the game a bit of shape, they've kidnapped a couple of people, and you have to find a set number each level before heading for the exit and confronting the guardian. There's the usual tricky map layout, with a bit of running 'in' and 'out' through various doorways. This is a bit of a bodge - to enter a doorway you have to stand centrally and hit up, so it's too easy to inadvertently jump into the path of a monster's fire. That's another thing the bad guys fire constantly if they see you. There's no break in the pattern, giving you no chance to avoid or jump past them without losing energy. You don't even have enough time to shoot then dodge the retaliatory blast, and I soon found myself running around at top speed and damning the consequences. Even if you do manage to zap a monster, it regenerates after a couple of minutes, which to my mind is a pretty low way of making the game harder - as is not resetting their positions when you leave a room, so there's a chance one will get you as soon as you materialise in a doorway. And another thing again - if you fall off a high ledge and die, you don't reappear on the ledge, but lower down, in mid-air. If you can't twist quickly enough to catch another ledge, you lose all your lives in a fashion horribly reminiscent of Jet Set Willy.
(Apparently Admiral are going to engage in a little programmish tweaking to fix the baddies-in-the-door way bug, so we'll give them the benefit of the doubt there, but as far as I know. The other two bits are there to stay. Oh, and dear.)
Answer that and stay fashionable
But it's not all bad news. The pace makes for an exhilarating platform game, and there are enough hidden bits and power-ups to keep explorer types happy. Even the multiload isn't that obstrusive. The game just seems haphazardly - and at times, shabbily - put together. Thore's no internal logic - as well as the Doctor shooting people, you've got Daleks spiriting hostages away to ledges and up chimneys, and bits of the scenery that may or may not be climbable (they certainly look climbable, but you don't know if they're just bits of the scenery until you trying jumping for 'em). The two-player mode is awful (you can flip between Ace and the Doctor, but may as well stick to one all the way through as there's no discernible difference between their abilities). Worst of all, those design faults that load the game in favour of the villains rob it of a sense of achievement (it's more 'Blimey, lucky I managed to get that monster who popped out of nowhere before his continuous laser stream finished me off' than 'Ha! Another skilful dispatch for Rambo Who. Hurrah for the forces of good!').
I dunno. Doctor Who's been knocking the socks of every Speccy fan who's seen it ('How did they get it moving so quickly?' 'Wow!' etc) but then again, they've not been playing it. I have, and I'm disappointed. As a tie-in it falls to bits (as most do) and as a game it irritates the hell out of me. It's above average, but then only marginally.
The manual for Dalek Attack is offensively poor. From trainspottery factual errors ('Davros glanced around the room menacingly' - er, he's blind, guys) to a rejection of the programme's whole ethical stance ('Quick thinking, agile reflexes and a tactical use of weapons are needed' - so what happened to outwitting the villains?) it invites ridicule. The worst - and actually relevant in a non-tediously-trainspottery-sort-of way - bit is the list of features and instructions. The booklet bangs on about the types of villain, the weapons available, the extra features, the 'hidden collectables' and the shop sequences, then prints a little disclaimer saying 'Certain features are not available in the Commodore, Spectrum and Amstrad versions due to restrictions imposed by these computers'. Or, 'We're not telling you what's relevant to your machine, but it's your fault for having a crap 8-bit anyway.' Of course, you realise this means war.
After the cover of this ish went to the printer, we realised that there was no YS-y joke on the cover headline. It was supposed to read 'Daleks conquer and destroy! (Bless 'em)' but due to, er, this and that we never got around to putting in the last bit. So, if you feel that this month's headline is just a mite too seriously violent for YS, please take the trouble to write '(Bless 'em)' on a piece of paper and affix it in the appropriate spot.
That concludes our Changing The Cover masterclass. Next month! A course on how to improve the Dizzy issue by removing all references to Dizzy! (That's enough. Andy)
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